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Pot Shop Primer

A map of marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles.
A map of marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles.

Ever since 2005, when marijuana dispensaries began to open up in and around Los Angeles, political initiatives, and debates about the legality of cannabis have practically been a yearly occurrence. As a result, it can be difficult for many Angelenos to decipher what exactly the cannabis laws are in L.A. Luckily, while it may be confusing to keep up with the shifting trends surrounding the marijuana debate, the law of the land is relatively straightforward.

Not much has changed regarding the Compassionate Use Act, which is the law that legalized the distribution of medical marijuana. It is legal for anyone with a medical marijuana card to purchase, cultivate, transport and possess up to eight ounces of cannabis. These individuals are also permitted to possess six mature marijuana plants, or twelve immature plants. However, the re-sale or gifting of cannabis by medical marijuana patients is a misdemeanor, provided the quantity is less than one ounce (any more is a felony).

Similarly, laws regarding the purchase, possession, cultivation and transportation of cannabis by people who do not have medical marijuana cards are also fairly straightforward. That is to say that for these people, the purchase, possession, cultivation and transportation of cannabis is illegal. Possession of an ounce or less is a misdemeanor and carries a maximum penalty of a $100 fine, though in many cases a first offense will not even go on record. However, the possession, distribution or transportation of more than an ounce is a felony and potentially carries jail time.

What has likely been the most confusing for Angelenos are the constant battles over whether or not dispensaries will continue to exist in the city of L.A., and if so, how many. The most recent development was the voter approval of Proposition D, which limits the number of dispensaries to 135. Prop D does not apply to parts of L.A. that are not controlled by the city council, such as West Hollywood and Santa Monica. This means that if the city of Los Angeles votes to shut down all dispensaries (as they did in 2012), the few dozen shops in West Hollywood (among other places) would be unaffected. You can see what districts the L.A. City Council controls, here.

It’s important to remember that the legal leniency that California/Los Angeles grants to medical marijuana patients, and first time offenses for non-patients does not protect anyone from arrest. The possession and distribution of cannabis is still illegal within the guidelines of federal law. Overzealous officers in the LAPD have also been known to arrest people for possession, regardless of one's legal rights. Whether or not you are a medical marijuana patient, if you consume or possess cannabis, you should continue to use common sense when out in public.